Thursday, August 23, 2012

Revisiting old addictions

This past weekend I was a judge at a model horse show, the Sweet Onion Classic in Walla Walla. I really don’t know where to start explaining this. The Hobby, as it is known to insiders, is a world I mostly left behind after college. I had a big-kid job and a real horse that needed attention. And I wasn’t living with my parents anymore, so I didn’t have a studio space, as such. So model horses just quietly drifted out of my life, like so many other hobbies that I started to find vaguely embarrassing during my long transition to legitimate adulthood.

For the uninitiated, here’s an overview. Most little girls have owned at least one or two Breyer horses, loved them and played with them, broken their delicate legs, scuffed their lovely paint, and slowly given them up in favor of makeup and boys.

But not all of us do that. Some of us carry that love of model horses beyond puberty. We find that there are others like us all over the world. (Thank you, internet!) We begin thinking of our models in terms of acronyms:
  • OF = Original finish (still bearing the paint job from the Breyer factory).
  • CM = Customized (a plastic horse that has been repainted and/or repositioned).
  • PSQ = Photo show quality (I can’t think of a non-model-horse way to explain this. So click here to learn about photo shows.)
  • LSQ = Live show quality.

It’s that last one, LSQ, that was the topic of the weekend. A live model horse show is not like comic-con. It is not a convention (although, yeah, there are conventions). It is almost like a real horse show, except it happens indoors, on tables, and on a much smaller scale.

I had the very distinct honor of judging all of the performance classes at this particular show. My main task was to hold in all my exclamations of “Pretty horsey!!” and take my job seriously.

So, for instance, in the dressage class, we had three entrants. An entry would generally consist of a model horse in tack (with or without a rider doll), a piece of arena fencing showing a letter, and a note card explaining what level and what movement the scene was supposed to be showing. I had to judge on a variety of criteria to place the horses. The tricky thing about being a model horse judge is that you have to understand both worlds, because you are judging as if it were the same class in a REAL horse show in addition to judging the models for workmanship. You need to know whether or not martingales are allowed in training level dressage. You need to know which lead the model is on. You need to be able to decide if the position of the model is an accurate reflection of the movement. Then you need to decide if that horse, if it were real, would score higher in a real event than the others in the class.

Insane, I know.

Because I am much more in the REAL horse world right now than I am in MODEL horse world, I was very picky about tack being placed correctly for real life riding. For instance, there was a really excellent, graceful entry in the dressage class. The model was absolutely appropriate for the test and level she was supposed to be depicting. The tack was the most realistic miniature English saddle I had ever seen. It was better made than many REAL saddles. Unfortunately, the owner had placed the bridle so that the bit couldn't possibly be in the horse's mouth, so I had to put her at the bottom of the placings. It really does come down to nitpicky stuff like that when all other things are equal.

Back in the day (high school and college particularly), I used model horses as an outlet for the part of me that wanted to buy every animal on Dreamhorse. If I couldn't own the real thing, I'd just paint a model to look like it. I probably customized hundreds. Somewhere, I still have a mountain of photos of models I painted back in the day. Small sample:

And some more show photos from Shana and Bethany:

Super detailed western entry. He won several classes.

This was "other performance," I believe. That reddish horse in the middle is the giant puppet from the stage version of War Horse. There are two dolls inside it working the levers—it should have won on cleverness alone!

Entrants make final adjustments while I prepare to judge.

Cool native costume had real mink fur!

So many pretties!

Reserve performance champion, me, and performance champion...

Gaming entries. Notice the note cards with each horse so I know what the game is supposed to be!

Native costume class. It was really, really hard to choose! The beadwork on some of these was mind-blowing.

This was an entry for "natural trail." Everything about it was perfect... except for the fact that I have never met anyone who liked to trail ride in their best show clothes!

I hope Shana puts this on again next year. I might even bring a few of my old beauties and see how they stack up!


  1. I wanna see an "endurance" class....complete with mud-spattered tack, garbage-sack raingear, sunscreen fashion faux pas, and plush-rider-in-lycra.

  2. WOW- I have never heard of this before. Some of those models are really cool!

    Are you going to paint a model like Blue? I'd try to talk you into painting a Cartman for me, but I bet they already make a solid brown horse, ha ha.

    1. I am working on a Blue. :) He's going to be a nightmare to paint what with all his little spots and roany bits!

  3. How fun! I recently found the dusty box full of Breyers, packed many years ago when I left home. I treated mine nicely, my sister's all had broken legs. I have a box of those too, labeled "horse hospital" by my mother. I took out a bay Arab (I always called him Sham from King of the Wind) and want to paint a blaze on him to match my horse. Thanks for the fun memories, and what cool horses and displays people make!

  4. Ruth, thank you for the write up! Yes I will work on organizing another show for next year. So get those models ready :) l LOVE that first custom you painted, where is it now? Aarene, I have the endurance tack but no doll yet, I'll keep the plush-rider-in-lycra in mind heheh Garbage sack raingear is an excellent idea. ;)

    1. I have no idea where 90% of the customs I did are. I sold them on eBay and MHSP between... oh... 1998 and 2004. I periodically check the various sites to see if any of them come up for sale, but they never do! That top on was a Johar, and one of my first time mixing metallic paint with translucent. It made a really cool effect!

  5. You know, the nerdier you get, the more I like you.

  6. When I started my blog, this was one of the things I MEANT to write about. I never got quite this elaborate, but I did make an english saddle and bridle as well as some nifty felt blankets with rick-rack trim for my Breyers. A few of them are still romping around my parents house. It was only when I saw an article in the NJ Star Ledger in 2001 or so that I realized Breyers had gone to a whole new level! But I think your insider view is so much more interesting - now I can take that off my guilt list.